The AT50: Speed Mountaineer Ueli Steck (#4)
Sports: Speed Mountaineering, Ice Climbing, Sport Climbing
Highlights: First ascent, the North Face of Eiger; speed record, north face of the Matterhorn; solo speed record Grandes Jorasses; 2008 Eiger Award; first ascent Tengkampoche; oxygen-free ascent of Everest
Quote: “If I don't take myself out of this game, I will die."
Fact: Ueli is a skilled carpenter.
AT50 Point Total: 49.5
There's a reason Ueli Steck is known as “The Swiss Machine.” He climbs the world's loftiest peaks and most challenging faces, sure, but he does so with the mechanical determination and calculated efficiency of a true machine. Witness the incredible sight of him setting his own speed record on the Eiger's North Face in 2008, an ice axe in each hand, his arms and legs pumping piston-like as he claws his way hungrily up the steep summit snowfield. One misstep, and it's all over.
A gifted mountaineer, Steck had notched the much sought-after first ascent of that legendary face seven years earlier, before setting out to make his mark abroad, putting up first ascents and speed records on remote peaks in Alaska, the Canadian Rockies and the Himalayas. In 2008, he became the first recipient of the Eiger Award, an honor given to those whose outstanding alpinistic achievements bring value of and fascination with the mountains to the public. Even as his profile has grown, Steck has remained an alpine purist who tackles his climbs in single, make-or-break pushes.
And last year proved that two decades of climbing hasn't slowed him down a bit. Prior to his May 2012 no-oxygen ascent of Everest, he and American Freddie Wilkinson acclimatized in classic Steck fashion—by climbing three nearby peaks, Tawoche (6,495m), Cholatse (6,501m) and Ama Dablam (6,914m) in quick succession.